As community financial institutions, sometimes we have a hard time effectively communicating the value and convenience that we provide to our customers and members. Mainly because large national bank chains have done a good job of brainwashing consumers into believing that they are the only financials that can offer high-tech financial products and ultimate convenience such as free, branded, ATMs on every street corner. This leaves our community financial institutions passed over in favor of large banks as primary financial providers.

But the story of a small start-up running shoe brand got me thinking about this situation and how we can come out the other side winning.

A Small Brand Fighting for Positioning

For this runner, I will be the first to admit that I am a brand snob when it comes to my running gear. I stick to the mainstream running brands that are well promoted and have dollars to put into their product research and development. Brands like Adidas, Asics, Brooks, New Balance, Saucony and, yes, sometimes even Nike, frequently adorn the running closet and shoe rack.

To me, the research and development of a pair of running shoes is incredibly important and complex. Put a seam or lace eyelet in the wrong place, and you can end up with some unhappy runners with blisters on their feet. And for someone who runs upwards of 40 miles per week, that’s a big deal. So for me and a lot of other runners I know, looking at and testing out new and unknown brands can be a cause for anxiety.

Enter the Skechers Performance running shoe line. Skechers itself is not an unknown or small brand. They’ve been in the casual fashion shoe market for many years. But the Skechers Performance division was pretty much all but unknown until a few years ago when a guy named Meb Keflezighi signed an endorsement deal with them and started running in their shoes.

It still wasn’t until 2014 when Meb crossed the finish line in first place at the Boston Marathon that the Skechers Performance brand was catapulted into the spotlight with the greater running community. Meb’s performance at Boston that year was a big deal for many reasons, not least of which being the year after the tragic Boston Marathon bombings and the first time an American had finished first at Boston since 1985. But the shoes on his feet also attracted a LOT of attention from runners and non-runners alike.

Two years later, Keflezighi ran an incredible performance at the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing in second and qualifying for his fourth Olympic team. It also happened to be the first year that Skechers Performance took over the naming rights to the Los Angeles Marathon, the host marathon for the US Olympic Trials in 2016. Talk about timing!

Publicity Doesn’t Always Equal Market Share

BUT. Even with all of this positive publicity, a great brand ambassador (I mean, who DOESN’T love Meb?), and chatter about their shoes, the Skechers Performance brand isn’t cracking the top five running shoe brands sold. (Fortune, October 2016):

  • Brooks – 23%
  • Asics – 18%
  • Saucony – 14%
  • Nike – 9%
  • New Balance – 7%
  • Other – 29%

Sounds and looks a bit familiar, right? Even with all of the bad publicity surrounding the large national bank chains, community financials – collectively – don’t even come close to cracking the top five list of financial institution market share.

Trying is Believing

After tossing the thought around for awhile, during my spring shoe buying extravaganza, I broke down and did it – I purchased a pair of Skechers Performance running shoes. And you know what? They’re fantastic! The shoes are well built, provide excellent support, great cushioning and fantastic transitions through my stride. While I’m not going to run out and fill my closet with the rest of the line at this point, it’s a good start.

Which is a lot like trying out a community bank or credit union after being a number at Bank of America for awhile. It’s a fresh, new and wonderful feeling to be treated well by the branch staff and not being cross-sold products you don’t need.

As a marketing consultant for community financials, I can tell you there’s a reason that testimonial and referral campaigns have been and continue to be so popular for account acquisition. If you can convince a new customer or member to “just give us a try,” chances are they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. And so on and so forth.

What’s Getting Lost

But there’s a gap here. Often, our bank or credit union tries too hard to be everything to everyone. We want to attract all of business we can. So we spread the capabilities of the institution too thin.

Skechers Performance has recognized this in their positioning. Of course they want to put their shoes on the feet of as many runners as possible…but I believe they’ve come to understand their brand and react accordingly. Right now, they’ve positioned themselves very well as the “give us a try” brand, for when runners need a break from their current favorite model or get frustrated with updates on their favorite shoe. As long as you’re also someone who doesn’t mind wearing funky colored running shoes, you’ll be sold.

So let’s try that out as community financials. Find the top three things your bank or credit union can delivery exceptionally to your consumers. Then tie that into your brand and market around that feature like it’s going out of style. Are you fantastic at delivering amazing value on auto loans? Great. Make sure people know to give you a try on auto loans, and the rest will come naturally.